The Walter Irving Henderson House in Kona was featured in a 1958 edition of Sunset Magazine – they said, “The house is small but takes care of a large number of guests without crowding.”
It is a combination of classics – the first floor structure was built, circa 1864, as a small church or meeting house; in 1953, the deteriorated church was renovated and the second floor was added, for use as a beach house.
The first-floor stone walls were part of the original Kahului Church building, and were constructed in a style that was typical of the Kona District in the mid-19th century.
Lava rock was a plentiful raw building material in Kona, while other construction materials such as wood were not as readily available. Once missionaries arrived, and began to build permanent houses of worship, they found that building with stone was the most economical and expeditious means of constructing what they needed.
These buildings were constructed with local lava rock held together with lime mortar produced with coral, typically burned on site. In some cases, the stones used came from local heiau. (It is not known if that was the case here, though there are records of heiau nearby.)
It is also not known who built the Kahului Church. One of the most well-known builders of Kona’s nineteenth century stone churches was the Reverend John D Paris, an American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Protestant missionary who was first in charge of the mission’s Kaʻū area, and then the North Kona area.
Many church buildings constructed in the Kona area are attributed to Paris; however this is thought to be a former Catholic church.
The first floor stone walls were constructed circa 1864 when the land was granted to Kapae in Royal Land Grant #2961, and the Kahului Church building is believed to have been constructed.
It is likely that the readily available lava rock building material allowed the missionaries to build in a similar style to Paris. For example, this type of construction was also used in the larger St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Kailua town.
An 1892 map shows Kahului Church, along with a nearby structure labeled “Makuakane” (which translates approximately to “father” in English, giving a strong indication that this was likely a Catholic priest’s house.)
The structure was modified from the original one-story church form to its existing two-story appearance in 1953; the entire second floor and interior of the first floor were designed by celebrated local architect Vladimir Ossipoff.
Ossipoff’s design for the Henderson House was innovative, and created an extremely unique house that, though it does not look like most of his other work, nonetheless embodies the majority of his aesthetic and philosophy of design.
Ossipoff was a prominent architect in the Islands, working between the 1930s and 1990s. He was recognized locally, nationally and internationally for his designs. He is best known for his contribution to the development of the Hawaiian Modern movement.
This style is characterized by the work of architects who “subscribed to the general modernity of the International Style while attempting to integrate the cultural and topographical character of the (Hawaiian) region.” (Sakamoto)
The main portion of the first floor of the house is one large open room, and has a scored, finished concrete floor, painted plastered walls, and an open beamed ceiling that exposes the floorboards of the second floor.
The thick stone walls create deep niches at the door and window openings; the center-opening doors and shutters installed do not extend beyond the width of the walls.
The property perimeter has a dry stack rock wall, dating possibly to the early- to mid-1800s. This was when a government commission began requiring formal property boundaries be erected by the year 1862.
Walls of this type, comprised of stones fitted together without mortar to hold them in place, had commonly been constructed in pre-contact times for a variety of uses.
As early as Kamehameha I in the 1820s, dry-stack walls were used in the Kona area as barriers to prevent wandering cattle. As ranching grew in the later part of the nineteenth century, more walls were needed to contain the growing number of cattle.
In Kona building and repairing dry-stack stone walls was common until the 1930s, but diminished throughout the Territory of Hawaii with the greater availability of alternate materials for walls and fences at that time.
The house was recently reviewed for listing on the State Register of Historic Places and the National Register. (Most of the information here is from Jones, NPS.)
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Catherine Henderson Warren says
Peter, This is a lovely post on my Grandparent’s “Kona House’. Do you have any information about Auntie Alice that lived next door (Keauhou side)? Her niece U’ki lived with her there. They ‘lived’ in the OLD WAYS!
She was so very nice to all of us when we were very young.
Thanks and best to you.